Small meat plants are in a fight for their life – Need help now!
From: James Serlin <james>
Date: Fri, Feb 15, 2019 at 10:38 AM
Subject: Let’s rally the troops!! – Marks Meat Inc
To: Ben Meyer <ben>
Ben and I wanted to reach out to our community and share a bit of insight on what we are working through with the USDA. This letter is not meant to complain, but it is meant to give you an inside look into what small processors are facing across the country in order to stay under federal inspection.
As many of you already know Ben and I took over Marks Meat Inc., a USDA processing plant about a year-and-a-half ago. We set out with the right intentions learned as much as we could from the previous owners and committed to head down a path to be the best processor we can be for our partners in ranching and farming.
As we’ve seen moving forward working within the USDA is difficult. It comes with its ups and downs and a ton of paperwork but at the end of the day it is what we are willing to do to ensure that all of our ranchers and farmers can gain the grant of inspection and sell their meat into the public food stream.
Over the last year-and-a-half we have had a handful of different "humane handling" issues. Some were as small as knocked over buckets of water that were considered non-compliance reports because the animals did not have access to water for a few minutes. They also include some farmers (we won’t mention who), pulling animals out of the back of their pickup truck even though the farmers know the animals have to unload at their own accord. These instances linked to some unsuccessful stunning attempts have put us in two separate suspensions. The last suspension we were put into lasted about 10 days before we are back up and running. Through that process we learned to deal with the higher-ups at the USDA and what steps we needed to take to move forward.
We are now in another suspension and it is being run up the chain past Denver District (who oversees our plant) to the office of Enforcement and Litigation Division (ELD) in Washington DC. Since we are in what’s called a "verification plan" from the last suspension we were immediately shut down. Now talking with ELD they have referred our case to the Office of General Counsel (OGC). This is the team of attorneys for the USDA that will be deciding whether or not we will be able to keep our grant of inspection.
We had already overhauled our entire humane handling procedure and are putting all of our efforts towards making this establishment as good as we possibly can be at the humane handling of livestock. As many of you are aware we take extra time unloading animals, running animals up the shoot, and knocking animals to ensure we are verifying every step of the humane handling process.
Though other larger USDA plants have had similar issues, they have been back up and running in a matter of a couple days. As a small plant without a humane handling compliance officer we have been told that this will this go to Washington DC and we will have to negotiate with the office of general counsel who will decide whether or not they will let us keep our grant of inspection.
Between this time and our last suspension we have spent 24 days (and counting) without being able to slaughter under inspection. This is an unbelievable amount of money that we are losing as a company. Not only does it put financial stress on the company but for those of you as producers who have been involved it is unbelievably frustrating to be notified less than 1 week ahead of time that the scheduled slaughter date that you scheduled for 6 months ago will need to be moved. Many of you are left without any other option for processing. We understand this and take it very seriously. It is the entire reason we took over this plant.
Here is what we need. We need our community to stand with us and help clear the log jam of bureaucracy! We need for the department and for the Office of General Counsel to be more responsive even though we are a small plant. These stall tactics are a leading cause of the closure of small plants around the country.
Below is a list of phone numbers and emails for all those involved in our case. Please take a few moments to call AND email every person on the list to let them know how it is affecting your business and the economy in our region.
DON’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER, IF THEY TELL YOU THE CASE IS NOT ON THEIR DESK DEMAND THAT THEY PASS YOUR STATEMENT ALONG TO THE DESK THAT IS CURRENTLY RESPONSIBLE. WE NEED TO LET DC KNOW THAT LOCAL AND REGIONAL ECONOMIES CAN NOT BE HELD UP BY FEDERAL BUREAUCRACY.
Margaret ODell FSIS Inspector (573)514-5722
Randell Walling DVM (503)593-9111
Michael W Booth DVM (541)393-4398
Criag T Brininger DVM Denver District DVMS (720)438-0315 craig.brininger
Scott Hoffman Deputy District Manager (303)495-4756 scott.hoffman
Elizabeth Evans DVM Enforcement and Litigation Division (202)897-9008 elizabeth.evans
Scott Safian Director of FSIS ELD (202)418-8872
Denver District Office (303)236-9800
John Rodriguez Office of General Counsel Attorney for the USDA
Paul Kiecker Deputy Administrator FSIS (608)628-8297
We understand everyone is busy so if you can’t reach out to all of these people please start from the bottom up.
Thank you for your continued support. We look forward to getting back to work soon.
Ben and James